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When Apollo 11 went up, the future in space looked good. For one thing, the Apollo Program offered a constructive choice and a way out from the Vietnam debacle. We are now several decades into that future and it's something else than hope offered. Today we seem to have jointly two war debacles and an economic debacle, among other matters gone wrong or failed. This seems to be what Washington calls "leadership," and I don't like what I see coming of it. Not out in space; not here on Terra.
I hear elements of American stability and life quality compared to a banana republic. I don't see progress there. In brief, I've lived long enough to find myself actually in the future that I once imagined, and I think it's pretty crummy. So I wind up my "It's Not Getting Done" series by outlining some of my observations concerning where this future might go from here.
To look for the future, don't look toward Washington. As described in Robert Winter-Berger's book, The Washington Payoff (a must-read, if you haven't already), Washington has its own objectives. The book's reader quickly realizes a space Settlements program will not be one of them.
I hope some of us will find ways to make this existing situation less grim than it appears. I regret the immense national cash flow into Washington goes ...where it goes; but let's act from what reality is, rather than sit around swapping regrets about what reality could be. To look for the future, look up toward space. Given money; our young peoples remarkable capacity for accomplishment; good leadership; and a few years of time, a space Settlements program with its economic and cultural benefits is only as far away as a lot of work.
(That was true in 1970, so why not now?)
Of course, it helps to watch what is, or isn't, in anyone's pipeline. China, Russia, India, America, you name it. The future will not appear, surprise, out of nowhere and no precursor signals. A rabbit out of a hat. In fact, some things must happen before others, and anyone can project a plausible sequence. I've been talking about what must happen before a human culture in space happens. Space is hard but provided the preliminary work is done, it's accessible.
(If life were more simple. In reality, there are challenges not about the science and engineering but about money and.... See the movie that is out now on DVD: Orphans of Apollo. The space community often voices serious angst about Washington's ITAR controls. Whoever thinks about space settlements wants to keep a deadly hierarchy in mind: Regulation kills money kills engineering. For which reason I believe regulation may be the showstopper for space settlements, not the science and engineering issues so loudly touted in the news media.)
How much money? Weigh carefully what NASA says about costs of space work: it's not necessarily so. Robert Zubrin estimates in his 'The Case for Mars' (1996), that three Settlements missions to Mars could be sent off for around $30 billion in 1990 dollars. Compared to the economic and social costs of today's ongoing wars, or of faith-based money policy in Washington, that's pocket money. Even if over time, it takes more inflation-shrunk dollars to do it. (If you buy your own groceries, you see that inflation now.)
Any thinking about space settlements must recognize the immense practical difference between public money vs private money in action. Go to the current news. Find a few pictures. Compare a SpaceX launch site with the usual Cape Canaveral constructions. There's a large job to do, but maybe the money to do it need not be so large as a NASA follower would guess.
In the following sections I explore some related topics I've had on my mind lately:
Hurtful governmental regulation may be overcome, one way or another. This will not happen by lucky accident nor mere time passing. Sheer need for change may or may not suffice. A core Settlements requirement against obstacles of bureaucracy and basic physics is strong leadership.
I write the following with no particular person in mind. Since I know of several people who partially meet my proposed requirements, I wonder if a small committee could do the job. This question is a can of worms and in the following, I'm going to stay with "leader."
(And I'm going to say, "he." In this culture, for this settlements objective, the man has an advantage that will be needed. Also, my text grammar is more simple given this choice. I think that in a nicer world than we have today, a woman is the better choice for this Settlements objective.)
A Settlements Program leader must be charismatic. Have you noticed, a few people stand out in a crowd? Here, it's a job requirement. And he wants a phenomenal memory for names and people. Also, a capacity for clear expression of rational thinking. (Compare Bush II vs Obama: no contest.) His age at startup time wants to be in a narrow range of 40 to 50: old enough to have had serious life and business experience, young enough to accomplish a difficult plan and its setbacks over many years.
The Settlements Program leader cannot be a career person who hops from job to job with pay and social status increasing along the way. He must have chosen to devote his life to his objective. He will know "things happen" and set a goal at the top of his list to make himself replaceable. He will have his successor nearby, ready to step into his shoes at need.
Which need may not be foreseeable! I recall a new hi-tech company that nearly failed after one of its principals took a short business trip by air on 2001 Sep 11. Things happen!
The Leader person must be a gifted engineer. To appreciate this need, you want some engineering experience yourself. Then you can listen to Elon Musk to hear the richness between the lines as he speaks. A listener without engineering background won't hear how Musk chose between options to settle on what was going to work. I hope to see a Musk autobiography someday because I'll learn a lot from it.
Such ability as Musk brings to his success, is not in the usual run of people. The essential process of the Settlements program is a series of engineering choices. Few people can see the options, make a series of choices in real time, and get them right enough. Musk is notable because he does it. I don't think even a good consensus group could do this. It falls on the Leader. Success is everyone's but the Leader gets the direction right. Else, the Settlements program fails.
After money and a Leader, the Settlements program needs a place, a location. I have heard "virtual" organizations mentioned in this context. "Virtual" refers to an affiliation over the internet of people far apart over Terra's surface. It won't work.
It will fail because it loses the essential ingredient of immediate human personal interaction. Only a "real" organization can carry out this program. And it will require a large place to do it. I envision four engineering campuses (Site; Habs; Power; Business) and a central Offices campus. These five all together as one, each accessible on foot to the others. The old-fashioned way!
Further, the Center being a heavy manufacturing location, it must be placed where the large Settlement structures built there can be moved out to launch location. "Central," here, means the center of the organization, not the center of the country (which I hope is America). Thus as I write, I see the "Central Location" being somewhere south of New York City, probably not as far west as Texas (hurricanes) and directly accessible by water to Cape Canaveral. (And no low bridges.)
I realize this sounds like bricks-and-mortar smokestack industry from the mid 1800's to the mid 1900's. I am not going into a lot of industrial theory here. Firstly, whoever builds such an industrial base today has much more management knowhow to work from than anyone did back then, and so can do it better. But secondly, this structure with its strong hierarchical elements, seems to me, most appropriate for a dedicated-purpose organization that must accomplish a well defined and difficult objective at minimum cost. "Old-fashioned" is tested, a solid base for a visionary new objective.
This space Settlements objective has a lot of dreams behind it. How the accomplishment in fact, will accomodate practical engineering realities to those dreams, remains to be seen. But I believe that if we don't do this, now, then maybe, nobody will ever.
(Or people might do it, whose interests entirely neglect Terra as a whole. Small examples come to mind. Someone is making a huge mint of money selling AK47's and heavier military hardware. In 2009 May, think of Pakistan's collection of about 100 nukes.)
I believe that if we don't do settlements in space, then we're gone. In the immense and violent processes natural to our universe, it's easy come, easy go. If some local cranks don't accomplish it first. And the second reason is, of course, outlined in Winter-Berger's book which I mentioned earlier. Who goes to Washington, and why? I would like to see "national service and the wellness of America" at the root of it. I'd like to see that.
I think that here in America, there has somehow developed a conservative attitude that if we undertake something new, that means change; but change is just too hard to do now. So let's spend that money where it will serve some purpose. (Another war? More corruption?)
One might argue that any boat needs an anchor, so the conservatives do have a point there. However, their point expands too easily into authoritarian and rigid social policy. Fortunately, we yet have people in America who are innovators and ambitious. People who can recognize that off-Terra is accessible to anyone who can do the work to get there. (And find ways past serious bureaucratic obstacles to do it.)
Today we have seen demonstrations that rockets can fly in space without an atmosphere to push against. The demonstration was hardly necessary: Newton wrote the mathematical theory of it going on three centuries ago. We have seen people go out to space and then return, still quite recognizably human. To go to space and then stay there, makes good sense and the engineering to do it is developed today far beyond speculation and outline. The cost to do it seems well within parameters set by recent economic adventures to prop-up large financial institutions that had better names than management. (...Has that really changed?)
The people who can do the job are here now. They are our young people. The Apollo people who built the Saturn booster averaged out to about 26 years age. Young people! We have no greater treasure in our human world than these young people, and we have today an appropriate task for them to undertake. And some of them are doing it.
Space-oriented organizations today range from large installations (SpaceX comes to mind), down to informal groups of grad students in rooms full of books and experimental hardware. I'm developing a Links section in Adra so that anyone interested in space settlements work can find others in the field.
I think people working at space, face an occupational hazard. It is the risk to Do Something but what they do isn't directed to need. Lacking focus, they turn their energy to social activities and catered banquets rather than to the work.
(This final piece of my 'It's Not Getting Done' series, concerning future possibility and how to get there, has grown so much I've broken it into two parts. Continue on to read the rest of this one.)
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